1. Seeing the Sights

It would be unforgivable to come to Paris and not “see the sights” for Paris has an abundance of historic and cultural sites to see.  In this chapter, you’ll see some of the more recognizable buildings in Paris.
Les Invalides

Les Invalides

The most  famous of all tombs in Paris is located under the dome of Les Invalides (above), for it is here that Napoléon Bonaparte was laid to rest.

It was here too that the French Revolution really started. The mausoleum adjoins the École Militaire (Military School) which housed an armory. The Paris mob stormed the armory to obtain weapons then marched across town to liberate the prisoners in the Bastille.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

The most famous monument in Paris actually created by Napoléon Bonaparte was the Arc de Triomphe which stands proudly at the top of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, itself one of the most famous streets in the world.

***

Another landmark which is visible from all over the city because of its position on the summit of the Butte de Montmartre is the basilica of Sacré-Coeur.

Sacre-Coeur

Sacré-Coeur

Being adjacent to the Place du Tertre, Sacré-Coeur is high on the “A List” of tourist sites, although it only dates from 1901 and its “wedding cake” design was the subject of much derision in the early days of its existence. Nevertheless, the basilica and the steps leading up to it are a favoured spot with tourists and Parisians alike.
Sacre-Coeur
Sacré-Coeur
Paris, from the steps of Sacré Coeur

Paris, from the steps of Sacré-Coeur

Voltaire described Paris as a great grey puddle and seen from the steps of Sacré-Coeur, you get an idea of what he meant. City ordinances prohibit the construction of tall buildings in the historic center and the few towers that have slipped through the net, such as the Tour Maine in Montparnasse, the residential towers of Italie and the high-rise office blocks of La Défense have created much controversy. For the most part, however, only the great churches such as St Eustache and Notre-Dame de Paris, the Panthéon and the Eiffel Tower break the skyline of central Paris…and of course, Sacré Coeur, which dominates the city from the top of the Butte de Montmartre. In the 19th Century, to accommodate the increasing traffic, Baron Haussman drove wide boulevards through the medieval city, opening it up to light and space. Although vestiges of the ancient  maze-like quarters still remain, as we shall soon see, Paris is a very different city now from that which Voltaire described.

Saint-Eustache

St. Eustache

One of the great churches of Paris is St. Eustache. It stands adjacent to the former site of the Paris markets (Les Halles).

Demolition of the Paris Markets at Les Halles

Demolition of the Paris Markets at Les Halles

The famous Baltard pavillions have been removed. Some were relocated to Bercy for historical preservation but the majority were demolished when the markets were relocated to Rungis in the south of the city. In the early part of the 20th Century, Les Halles was a favourite haunt of late-night party-goers who’d finish their partying in the cafés frequented by the market workers. Today, the site of Les Halles is occupied by a shopping complex called Forum des Halles.

Forum des Halles

Forum des Halles

Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris

One of the most picturesque views in Paris: looking across the Seine from the pont de l’Archevêque (the Archbishop’s Bridge) towards Notre-Dame de Paris.

This great cathedral, built in the 13th century owes much of its fame to the writer, Victor Hugo, who immortalized it in his novel “Notre Dame de Paris”, better known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.You can still climb to the top of one of the two cathedral towers and not only see the great bell which Quasimodo reputedly rang but also a wonderful panorama of the city, from its very center – the “zero point” of Paris.

Looking East from Notre-Dame

Looking East from Notre-Dame

If Quasimodo, on a break from bell ringing, had looked towards the rear of Notre-Dame he would have seen the now fashionable Ile St Louis (to the left of the spire) and beyond it the unfashionable remainder of eastern Paris.

North of the Ile St Louis, across the northern branch of the river, sits the low-lying area known as the Marais (marsh).

Quasimodo’s author, Victor Hugo, lived on the Place des Vosges in the heart of the Marais.

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Although hidden from us here by the haze, Notre-Dame stands on an island in the river Seine called the Ile de la Cité seen in the middle of the photograph below.
Le Pont Neuf

Le Pont Neuf

The Pont Neuf (New Bridge) is in fact the oldest bridge in Paris. It is split by the point of the Ile de la Cité, from which the settlement of Lutèce grew into present day Paris.

Apart from Notre Dame, the Ile de la Cité is also home to many other historically significant buildings including the Concièrgerie, in which none less than Marie Antoinette, Robespierre and Danton were imprisoned during the Revolution. Nearby, is the exquisite Sainte Chapelle with its famous stained glass windows, now part of the Palais de Justice (the main law courts of Paris).

Adjacent to the law courts on the southern side of the island (the right, as you look at the photograph above) is a building, known colloquially as the Quai des Orfėvres, which is immediately familiar to devotees of romans policiers, especially those centered around the exploits of one Inspector Maigret, for the “Quai des Orfėvres” is home to the Préfecture de Police.

The River Seine

The River Seine

A similar shot to the preceding one but under very different weather conditions. Here you can just see the twin towers of Notre Dame at the centre of the skyline.

Notre-Dame at Night
Notre-Dame at Night

The picture above shows the sombre mass of Notre-Dame against the darkening sky with the southern facade of the cathedral illuminated by the lights of a Bateau Mouche. These tourist boats, also seen in the earlier shot of the Pont Neuf, ply the river day and night showing visitors the key monuments of the Right and Left Banks.

next chapter >

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4 thoughts on “1. Seeing the Sights

    • All of the photographs in my Paris Album were taken over 30 years ago; the majority in 1973 and 1976. They are from a book I did called “Remembering Paris”. Thank you for your visit.

      • Dear Keith,

        I left a note earlier, but now I saw your reply here and know that you are the photographer of all the Paris photos. First of all, great works! I love how you captured the details and characters of the city. Like I mentioned in my previous note, I am writing a book on historic preservation in Beijing, Paris, and Chicago, and I wanted to show the photo of the demolition of Les Halles in my book. I would like to get your permission for showing your photo in my book. Of course, the book will indicate that the photo is your work. I would appreciate if you could send me an e-mail and let me know whether you could give me the permission. Thank you.

        Best,
        Yue
        (yuezhang@uic.edu)
        (www.uic.edu/depts/pols/faculty/yuezhang.html)

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